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The Farmer's Boy

[ Roud 408 ; Laws Q30 ; G/D 5:960 ; Ballad Index LQ30 ; MusTrad MT241 ; Bodleian Roud 408 ; Wiltshire 303 , 1083 ; Mudcat 53964 ; trad.]

Lucy E. Broadwood, J.A. Fuller Maitland: English County Songs Mary and Nigel Hudleston: Songs of the Ridings: The Yorkshire Musical Museum Frank Kidson: Traditional Tunes William Henry Long: A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect Roy Palmer: Everyman's Book of English Country Songs Steve Roud, Julia Bishop: The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

Tony Wales sang To Be a Farmer's Boy in 1957 on his Folkways album Sussex Folk Songs and Ballads. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:

This popular English country song was believed to date from the early 18th century by Robert Ball (Ancient Poems, Ballads, and Songs of the Peasantry of England, London, 1857). It was frequently printed by broadside presses in England and in America during the 19th century, and has remained popular in tradition to this day in England. Mr Wales believes it to be the most widely known country song in Sussex.

Mr Wales learned this song when still a young boy, though he has since collected other versions.

George Townshend sang The Farmer's Boy to Brian Matthews in Lewes, Sussex on 7 February 1960. This recording was included in 2000 on his Musical Traditions anthology Come, Hand to Me the Glass.. Rod Stradling noted:

One of the most popular of collected songs in England (Roud has 153 instances), probably dating from about the 1820s … and it is one of the songs sung by the Boggins prior to the Hood game on January 6 at Haxey, Lincolnshire. It was very common on 19th century broadsides and songsters, and also collected quite regularly in USA and Canada, but not much, apparently, in Scotland. It was once fairly popular in Irish songbooks and ballad sheets, but is seldom sung there now. The known texts vary very little—maybe due to a popular 78 from the 1930s. The tune is apparently Ye Sons of Albion—which dates from the Napoleonic Wars and the earliest record of the song so far is The Lucky Farmer's Boy in the 1832 Catnach catalogue. There are 17 sound recordings, only two of which are from Sussex—and the other one is from F.H. ‘Gabriel’ Figg, of George's birthplace in East Chiltington.

In mid-Cheshire there is a tradition that the original ‘farmer's boy’ of the song was the Reverend Thomas Smith, to whose memory there is a tablet in the Baptist Chapel at Little Leigh, near Northwich. He is said to have come to the village ‘weary and lame’, looking for work. He called at Heath House Farm, was given a job, and in time married the farmer's daughter“just as the song relates. Later he became a Baptist minister and he is buried in the graveyard of the Chapel.

Fred Jordan sang The Farmer's Boy on his 1966 Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker. Another recording, made by Ian Russell and Derek Schofield in 1990/91, was released in 1991 on Jordan's VWML cassette In Course of Time and was included in 2003 on Jordan's posthumous Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad. The latter album's booklet commented:

in 1891 the Yorkshire musicologist Frank Kidson was able to say that, “Even now the popularity of The Farmer's Boy is great among country singers.” Kidson printed four distinct tunes for the song in his book Traditional Tunes, and noted that “at least two different airs, said to be traditional ones, are to be found published in modern sheet music.” Fred had the song from his father, and it became something of a signature-tune for him.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Farmer's Boy in 1966 on the Australian album A Wench, a Whale and a Pint of Good Ale. The sleeve notes commented:

A great favourite of Martyn's and once described by the collector Baring-Gould as “One of the most popular and widely known folk songs in England”.

Cyril Poacher sang The Farmer's Boy in a recording made by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, Suffolk, on 3 October 1974. It was included in 2004 on his posthumous Musical Traditions album Plenty of Thyme.

The Holme Valley Tradition sang The Farmer's Boy in Will Noble's barn in Denby Dale, Yorkshire on 27 September 1986. This recording was released a year later on the VWML cassette Will's Barn.

Ian Robb sang Farmer's Boy on his 1994 CD From Different Angels. He noted:

Farmer’s Boy was the only folksong I ever heard my father sing. He was born in 1905 and brought up on a farm near the Hampshire-Wiltshire border in England, and remembered it as the most popular farm labourers' song of the time. I relearned it with the help of David Parry, Shelley Posen and Lucy Broadwood’s English County Songs.

Pete Morton sang A Farmer's Boy in 1998 on his Harbourtown album Trespass, in 2014 on his Fellside album The Frappin' and Ramblin' Pete Morton, and in 2020 on his CD A Golden Thread. He noted on the first album:

A popular song about a successful job hunt—probably from around the time of the enclosures, with a happy ending. Heard at Folk Festivals throughout England to make a happy weekend. (Does that make sense??)

Gordon Hall of Horsham, Sussex, sang The Farmer's Boy on his 2001 CD on the Country Branch label, Good Things Enough.

The Millen Family sang Farmer's Boy in 2001 on their CD Down Yonder Green Lane.

Tom and Barbara Brown sang The Farmer's Boy on their 2007 WildGoose album West Country Night Out. They noted:

Probably one of the most requested songs in our repertoire, and widely known not only in the West Country, but throughout England for at least 200 years. Many countrymen, having lived through times of agricultural depression, identify strongly with the song—and it seems that once again agriculture is under threat, what with blunders over disease control, falling produce prices, and a government that tells you when to cut a hedge. No wonder DEFRA is known as the Department for the Eradication of Farming and Rural Activities!

The Dollymopps sang The Farmer's Boy on their 2011 album of traditional songs from the Isle of Wight collected by W.H. Long in the 1880s, Long Songs. They noted:

A Victorian tear-jerker that was once in the repertoire of every country singer in England, but is little sung these days. Depending on your reading it extols either the value of hard work or the wisdom of marrying for money! Tune from Cyril Poacher.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Farmer's Boy in 2011 on his Fledg'ling CD God Speed the Plough. He noted:

During the meetings to establish a trade union for the farming community in the second half of the nineteenth century, this some became something of an anthem for agricultural workers, and it continues arouse strong feelings to this day. And you can see why. It's irresistible—a story which combines humble beginnings, a willingness to work, a hefty dollop of good luck, good hearts all round, and a happy ending.

The folk song collectors have come across quite a few handsome tunes to this song, but the one which has won out above them all seems to have come originally from a warmongering piece designed to whip up feelings against the French in general and Napoleon in particular. This was called Ye Sons of Albion, and would undoubtedly have faded away as a vaguely interesting historical obscurity if its melody hadn't registered with some bright spark as a suitable vehicle for these words. The tune has also been used as a regimental march in the army, and its stirring strains have helped to make this one of the most popular and well-loved songs in the English tradition.

Jon Boden sang The Farmer's Boy as the 16 June 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Lyrics

Cyril Poacher sings The Farmer's Boy John Kirkpatrick sings The Farmer's Boy

The sun was set beyond yon hill
Across the dreary moor,
Weary and lame, a boy there came
Up to a farmer's door.
“Can you tell to me where'er there be
One that will me employ;
I can plough and sow, reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and to be a farmer's boy.

The sun had set behind yon hill
Across yon dreary moor,
When weary and lame a poor boy came
Up to a farmer's door.
“Can you tell me where'er there be
One that will me employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.

“My father's dead, my mother is left
With her five children small,
But what is worse for my mother still,
I'm the elder of them all.
Though little I be, I will labour hard
If thou wilt me employ;
I can plough and sow, reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy.”

“My father's dead, my mother's left
With five children large and small,
And what is worse for my mother still,
I'm the largest of them all.
Though little I am, I would labour hard
If I could find employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.”

“And if you will not me employ,
One favour I do ask:
Shelter me till the break of day
From this cold winter's blast.
At the break of day I'll win my way,
I'll swear to seek employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.”

The farmer's wife cried, “Try the lad.
Let him no longer seek.”
“Father do,” the daughter cried,
Whilst the tears rolled down her cheeks.
“For those who'll work 'tis hard to want,
And wander for employ.
Don't let him go, but let him stay
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy.”

The farmer's wife said, “Try the lad.
Let him no longer seek.”
“Yes, father do,” the daughter cried,
As the tears rolled down her cheek.
“For those who would work 'tis hard to want,
And wander for employ.
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.”

The farmer's boy grew up a man;
The good old couple died.
They left the lad the farm they had,
And the daughter for his bride.
For the lad that was, and the farm now has,
Often smiles and thinks of joy.
He will bless the lucky day when he came that way
To be a farmer's boy, and to be a farmer's boy.

There you are!

The farmer's boy grew up a man
And the good old couple died,
Leaving the lad the farm they had,
And their daughter for his bride.
Now the lad which was, a man now is,
Often thinks and smiles with joy
And he blesses the day he came that way
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.